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Interview with Mike Austin aka HumanNature84

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Our guest today is a great vector artist and owner of Vectorlogy - Mike Austin. “ The artist must understand that they are on a personal artistic journey, so comparing their progress against others is useless. Focus on YOUR strengths!” – he says. Learn more about Mike and his illustrations after the jump.

Q Hi Mike, welcome to the Vectortuts+. Tell us a little bit about yourself, where are you from, how and when did you start doing vector graphics?

Well where do I start? I'm a California native and I currently live in Texas. I graduated from Platt College in Ontario California with a focus on graphic design. I've been working with vector graphics since 2004 and I taught myself illustration and figure drawing. I enjoy teaching and helping other people achieve success with the vector medium and discover the true potential of what vector can do.

Q What does vector graphics mean for you today, is it your first job or hobby? Do you have special education or are you self-taught?

Today, I'm very deep in the vector medium. I've just begun to crack open Ai CS6 and its been a great pleasure learning this new version from the inside out. I'm mostly self-taught in the illustration department, but I'm trained as graphic designer. The graphic design training has really helped me to balance my compositions as well as working with complex elements in a scene.

Q Undoubtedly you can be called a teaching artist, because you share your skills with vector world. What do you think are the main stages of an artistic education?

Well, it really depends on the artist and what direction he/she wishes to travel. For the most part, I really emphasize attitudes and ideas towards learning. This is the biggest problem I see when artist are trying to develop his or her craft is over obsessing over their lack of talent (or the overabundance of others) resulting in feeling of “I can't make it” or “I just don't have what it takes”.

Three things must happen in the artist mind before he or she can build a strong work ethic and succeed in his or her craft:

  1. The artist must understand that it takes time to develop any skill (sometimes a very long time).
  2. The artist must understand that they are on a personal artistic journey, so comparing their progress against others is useless. Focus on YOUR strengths!
  3. The artist (if self-taught) must be willing to gather his or her own learning materials and devote much of their time examining the information and digesting the material (at least one hour a day).

Q The great performance of vector programs have resulted in many vector artistsnot knowing how to draw. Do you teach drawing in your online tutorials?

For the most part vector technologies are taught in graphic design classes (which don't require traditional drawing skills). The latter being the case, most vector artist will never come in contact with the fundamentals of traditional drawing and painting beyond the basics.

Now like never before are drawing and painting skills been in demand (the indie gaming and movie business is booming with no signs of slowing down). With sites like Kickstarter funding projects left and right, indie projects will become the normal means of production; I want vector artist to be part of that growing trend.

Q Could you tell us about your new project Vectology?

The main objective of Vectology is to teach the skills that are not covered in most graphic design courseware. Graphic artists primarily use vector tools to produce their artwork, so they are more comfortable in that environment. I want to teach graphic artist in their native program how to create a very complex illustrations that are in line with today's concept art and illustration standards. Many people over the years have asked me how I create my illustrations, or could I help them with their own illustration studies. I have come to the conclusion that most of vector artist have never really been exposed to the fundamentals of drawing in any deep and meaningful way.

At Vectology will also include the style and type of tutorials most vector arts have come to love. Icons, Logos, and typography will also have their place because those are also important staples of any graphic designers repertoire. I mostly deliver my tutorials in video format because in my opinion it shows the totality of what it takes to create this type of artwork. When I was learning how to do illustrations I was a heavy consumer of video tutorials and products such as, the Gnomon workshop, Massive Black products, and various other training video courses and they really helped me to understand not only the process of creating the artwork but also the artists personal perspective that is so invaluable. It can never really be expressed in any written tutorial.

Q Your vector artworks consist of various vector objects, and this of course, affects the computer performance. Do you have any tips on how to work effectively in such conditions? For example, some artists raster completed parts of an artwork to be faster.

For the most part I do the same thing, but I use these steps:

  1. I turn the finished portion into a symbol
  2. I rasterize the symbol
  3. I turn the raster image into a symbol, thus giving me the ability to switch between the raster or vector preview.

I've created a video tutorial demonstrating this process.

Q Which tool is the basic tool for you when creating vector objects?

For the most part I use the brush tool for all of my basic rendering. I never really use the pencil tool because it cannot hold transparency. The pen tool I use for basics selections or really precise masks.

Q I know that one of the main goals for you is to erase the line between vector and raster. Were you able to achieve it?

My main goal is not to erase the line between vector and raster, but for people to have the choice of using both for any illustration project they may have. The real idea here is that there never was a line to begin with, just different users.

Q Do you have the basic rules for using the blending modes?

I mostly use screen for basic rendering and multiply is really great for shadows. Overlay is a great dodger (Think of the overlay mode like dodge and burn in Photoshop).

Q You create great vector textures. Can you tell us a little bit about the technique that you use to create them? Maybe you have a tutorial that covers this topic?

Why yes, I do have a great tutorial on just that.

Q How do you manage to reproduce atmospheric perspective in your vector artworks? What techniques do you use?

Why yes, I do have a great tutorial on just that.

Q Let me quote you: "I think all vector artists need to be free from Gradient Mesh". Why don't you like this tool?

It's not that I think that the tool is horrible, it's just that to create nice and smooth transitions you need it, but it is very hard to use. Also, the gradient mesh tool really only works well with referenced artwork or stock images. So what I mean by “freedom from gradient mesh” is not necessarily a hatred of the tool, but the need for other options for creating complex gradients and tones.

Over the years I developed many different rendering techniques that allowed me much freedom when creating my vector art. Back in 2007, I started to develop brushes made out of blends that really helped me to push the boundaries of what can be done with vector art. But blend brushes (when used very heavily) can really slow down a computer, so I created the use of transparent blends. Transparent blends are very lightweight and really don't tax your memory as much and can be used for many different purposes.

Q Judging by your tutorials, you already work in Adobe Illustrator CS6. What new features do you consider to be useful or necessary? How often do you update the releases of the software or do you think it is not very important?

The single most important feature of using Adobe illustrator CS6 is summed up in one word, SPEED! If Adobe just released a 64 bit version of Adobe illustrator that would be worth buying in of itself. You stack on top of that a new image tracing engine, a brand new pattern maker, and the ability to output art boards as separate files, you have a mandatory upgrade release.

Q What helps you to tune into the creative process? How do you like to spend your free time?

Great music and just having a good time with my family pretty much gets me going. When I get into artists mode I usually cruise the web for great inspiration and new flavors of creativity.

Q Thank you for the interview; it was nice talking to you. A few parting thoughts, what would you recommend and advise to beginning designers?

The number one thing I always say to new artist is stay positive and keep drawing.

Mike Austin on Web

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